Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder with progressive ataxia that affects both the peripheral and central nervous system (CNS). While later CNS neuropathology involves loss of large principal neurons and glutamatergic and GABAergic synaptic terminals in the cerebellar dentate nucleus, early pathological changes in FRDA cerebellum remain largely uncharacterized. This study reports early cerebellar VGLUT1 (SLC17A7)-specific parallel fiber (PF) synaptic deficits and dysregulated cerebellar circuit in the frataxin knock-in/knockout (KIKO) FRDA mouse model. At asymptomatic ages, VGLUT1 levels in cerebellar homogenates are significantly decreased, whereas VGLUT2 (SLC17A6) levels are significantly increased, in KIKO mice compared with age-matched controls. Additionally, GAD65 (GAD2) levels are significantly increased, while GAD67 (GAD1) levels remain unaltered. This suggests early VGLUT1-specific synaptic input deficits, and dysregulation of VGLUT2 and GAD65 synaptic inputs, in the cerebellum of asymptomatic KIKO mice. Immunohistochemistry and electron microscopy further show specific reductions of VGLUT1-containing PF presynaptic terminals in the cerebellar molecular layer, demonstrating PF synaptic input deficiency in asymptomatic and symptomatic KIKO mice. Moreover, the parvalbumin levels in cerebellar homogenates and Purkinje neurons are significantly reduced, but preserved in other interneurons of the cerebellar molecular layer, suggesting specific parvalbumin dysregulation in Purkinje neurons of these mice. Furthermore, a moderate loss of large principal neurons is observed in the dentate nucleus of asymptomatic KIKO mice, mimicking that of FRDA patients. Our findings thus identify early VGLUT1-specific PF synaptic input deficits and dysregulated cerebellar circuit as potential mediators of cerebellar dysfunction in KIKO mice, reflecting developmental features of FRDA in this mouse model.
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